In an unprecedented development, the Big 10 failed to land a single player on the McDonald's 24-member All-America high school basketball team for 2009.
"It says whether you are a McDonald's All-American or a top 50 player, you find few players in this class going to the Big 10," said widely respected recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, who has served as one of the McDonald's selectors since 1978.
"That isn't to say that the Big 10 won't do well in 2010 and get future McDonald's All-Americans. But this year is unprecedented. I can't recall a year when the Big 10 didn't get at least one or two All-Americans. In my view, it is just an off year, not a long-term issue.
But Gibbons said that critics who claim Illinois coach Bruce Weber is a poor recruiter are hurting the Illini program.
Critics point out that Weber hasn't signed a McDonald's All-American during his six years at Illinois, that North Carolina got four this year. In fact, Illinois has landed only one McDonald's All-American (Dee Brown) in the last 10 years.
"Weber is painted as a bad recruiter by Illini Nation and other people read the Internet, including college coaches, recruits, fans and alumni," Gibbons said. "That negativity fuels the fire and hurts the program. Other kids are made aware of what people are saying about Illinois. It can have a lot to do with how they deal with the recruiting process."
Gibbons doesn't believe Weber gets as much credit as he deserves. He insists that guard D.J. Richardson, an Illini recruit who ranks No. 30 in the country on his list and is the highest rated Big 10 recruit this season, would have been a McDonald's All-America if he had stayed at Peoria Central rather than transfer to a prep school in Nevada.
"I guarantee Richardson would have been an All-American," Gibbons said. "But he went to an all-star team where he wasn't the total standout."
Gibbons believes critics will change their tune and be toasting Weber next year when Illini recruits Jereme Richmond of Waukegan and Crandall Head of Crane achieve All-America recognition, as he projects.
Gibbons points out that many critics don't understand that programs recruit, not coaches. There are reasons why some programs are successful year after year, why North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and Indiana have a tradition of winning and attracting the best players.
"They have an edge because kids want to go where they can play for an NCAA championship, where they can play with the best players, where they can be prepared for the NBA, where they can get the most television exposure, where they can play a certain style," Gibbons said. "A lot of schools are trying to climb into that elite category. Illinois is one of them."
Gibbons is convinced the Big 10 is on the way back to competing with the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and Pac-10 as the most dominant conference in college basketball. He points to the good recruiters who have had success in the past--Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith, Matt Painter and Tom Crean--and he includes Weber in that group.
"It's just a matter of time before they turn it around," he said.